Jennie Gilliam carefully chops up the green onions to be mixed with scrambled eggs as part of the Pocahontas Club’s “spring tonic” cleansing for the Wild Onion Feast.
Spring is coming.
As the cold of winter ebbs and the warmth of spring returns to Oklahoma, the sights, sounds, and traditions of the season return along with it.
For the members of the Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club that means the annual welcoming of the season with the Wild Onion Feast.
Since its inception more than 100 years ago, the Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club have been the caretakers of the customs, rituals and cultural traditions of the Cherokee Nation, and the Wild Onion Feast is among its oldest traditions.
For longtime Pocahontas Club member Ollie Starr the tradition is one that goes all the way back to her childhood in Pryor.
“The first green of spring, in our native culture, was the wild onion, and it was our tradition – to have a dinner from wild onion to recognize the return of spring,” Starr said. “As my birthday was March 15, and the wild onions come up in March that was always my birthday feast.”
“I used to go with my father in his old Ford truck to forage for wild onions, and we had a special place to go, down by the creek where the leaves would fall (in the autumn), under which, you could just see the wild onions growing,” she said. “You’d rake back the leaves and gather enough of the wild onions – we always used a sharpened stick – and would rinse them off in the cold water. It was my job to lay them straight so they could be easily cut.”
After this, Starr said she would gather sassafras root to make the tea, as it was considered the “cleansing tonic” of the spring.
While the feast itself historically bolstered members of the tribe as they came out of the cold winter months, it also brought the community together in a time of fellowship, much like it does in modern times.
Today, the feast shares those memories and heritage with all ages, while incorporating a live auction to the proceedings to raise money for the group to share with upcoming generations through their scholarship fund.
“In addition to the feast being a celebration of our heritage, the auction is the means by which we fundraise for our yearly scholarships,” she said. “At the auction, we have several items – donated to us by individuals, groups or area businesses, which allows us to award scholarships for deserving Cherokee youth.”
The dinner itself includes wild onions, often mixed with scrambled eggs for protein, salt pork, fry bread, grape dumplings and sassafras tea.
“We’re going to be spacing the tables out a little more this year, so we would encourage people to buy tickets early and buy a table, so that they can bring their family and share this tradition with them,” Starr said. “Whatever (COVID) protocols are in place at the time will be recognized during the dinner and auction.”
The Wild Onion Feast is the club’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
“We’re honored to be sharing this with people, allowing them to be a part of it, to learn more about us and our traditions while enjoying our traditional foods with friends or family,” she said.
The Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club’s Wild Onion Dinner is scheduled for March 19 at First United Methodist Church, 1615 OK-88 in Claremore. Seating will begin at 11:15 a.m. and lunch will be served at noon.
For more information or tickets, contact Celeste Tillery at 918-724-3006 or Ollie Starr at 918-760-7499.
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